MADISON (WKOW) -- Milwaukee Army Veteran Gerry Clemens had a heart attack four months ago, while walking his dog.
Doctors determined he needed a heart transplant and he was transported to the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.
To be eligible for a heart transplant, Gerry had to take a COVID-19 test, which came back positive. That meant recovery and a 6 week quarantine before doctors could attempt the surgery.
“There was just hurdle after hurdle after hurdle that he needed to overcome,” said Dr. Amy Fiedler, Chief of Cardiac Surgery.
Gerry also had a bout with pneumonia and issues with his kidneys, in addition to his heart.
Doctors say there were a lot of unknowns as to how COVID would affect a transplant.
“That’s a big question mark for us right now specifically with respect to transplant,” said Fiedler, “because these patients require immuno-suppression after they receive the organ.”
Due to the severity of his illness, Gerry was listed at a high status.
Two days later, they found a heart.
“It’s hard to get your mind around it. A dead man saves your life,” said Gerry. “So many hours later I have his heart in my body. It’s hard to believe.”
Gerry's surgery was successful and he is now an outpatient, but will be a frequent visitor to the Madison VA over the next year as he regains his strength through physical therapy and doctors monitor his new heart.
Gerry is the first patient at either the Madison VA or the University of Wisconsin Hospital to have a transplant following a successful recovery from COVID.